Tips for using outdoor containers to plant for living art … and privacy

By Lisa Watters-Lain, Arizona’s garden gal

Spring trees begin to bloom this issue. Trees are noble works of nature, and we are humbled by their greatness while walking through the redwoods of California or admiring the massive structure of a Texas oak. Often, inspiration is as simple as pulling under the cool shade of an eastern tree-lined street. We are amazed at the majesty of the trees. We feel this every spring and wonder if everyone feels the same.

Plant season begins at the first thaw. The easiest gardening is in containers … and tall plants provide an added bonus. They turn ordinary container gardens into living art, adding height, variety, and drama. My designer rule for stylish containers is “thriller, spiller, then fillers.” Combine a tall, thrilling focal point with plants spilling over the sides of your container to soften the edges. Filler plants bridge the space between. Very little potting soil should be visible when your design is complete. Plants will be touching foliage to foliage.

After beginning with a tall thrilling plant, the rest of your job is easy. Here is my go-to list of tall plants that thrive in container gardens.

Insider Tip: The larger your container, the easier it is to grow and maintain. The more potting soil your container holds, the longer these tall beauties last, providing years of enjoyment.

Alberta Spruce, Picea glauca, is perfect for front-yard containers raised beds. Lush growth means it’s also an excellent screen plant that won’t overgrow spaces. Experiment with topiary spirals or poodles specimens on entries and patios without room to plant. This is a beautiful choice for woodland gardens or behind-water features.

Arborvitae, Thuja, makes an elegant, classy, low-maintenance centerpiece in a container garden. Choose one that holds its shape nicely without a lot of pruning. A good option is ‘Emerald Green’ arborvitae, a semi-dwarf cultivar that grows in a narrow pyramid to around seven to 12 feet tall. Plant in a large pot with Watters Potting Soil, and it will thrive for many years.

Boxwood, Buxus, are often grouped together in foundation plantings or to form low hedges. Dwarf boxwoods are famous for their use in formal cottage- or English-style landscapes. They respond well to pruning, making them popular as topiary and bonsai plants. The fun of using this plant is trimming it to be anything you want.

Agave thrives in a shallow clay pot. Locals refer to this native wonder as Arizona’s century plant. Rumored to shoot up a 12-foot flower from its heart once every 100 years. I find they bloom every 10-15 years when cared for properly. They prefer a gritty, well-drained cactus mix.

Sage, Salvia, is the longest blooming sage, signaling spring with continual flowers broadcasting right through autumn. Hummingbirds and gardeners fall for this knee-high bloomer that deserves a prominent location in the garden’s hotter spots. It’s javelina- and deer-proof.

Gardenia is famous for its heady fragrance and grows best as a patio specimen in partial shade. Gardenia roots don’t like to be disturbed, so choose a larger 18-inch container for years of evergreen patio enjoyment.

Lavender is virtually synonymous with fragrance. The best-known aromatic herb is a potpourri staple; its flowers and leaves, especially after they’re dried, have a fabulous smell. Lavender thus bridges the gap between plants with aromatic foliage and those with strongly scented flowers.

Roses are surprisingly easy to grow in our dry mountain air; they love it here. They thrive in larger containers at least 18 inches wide. Try Easy Elegant, Knockout, and Carpet roses for continual fragrance every month of the growing season. Feed every two weeks with Watters Flower Power for even larger blooms from your bush.

Rosemary quickly forms a hedge of aromatic evergreen foliage. Profuse clear blue flowers add a charming effect. Leaves can be used as a flavorful herb in cooking. Prunes well but is equally excellent in its natural form without pruning.

Yucca is a magnificent Southwestern native producing four-foot wands of bright trumpet flowers irresistible to hummingbirds. Blooms tower above the mound with sword-shaped foliage. A must-have for sunny waterwise gardens used in a showy evergreen planting.

Until next issue, I’ll be helping gardeners choose thrilling plants for their large pots here at Watters Garden Center.

Lisa Watters-Lain can be found at Watters Garden Center, 1815 Iron Springs Rd. in Prescott, or contacted through her website at or Top10Plants. com